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Attending graduate school for a MSW is an excellent way for practitioners to advance into child welfare social work. The child welfare specialty is focused on protecting our nation’s youngest citizens from abuse, neglect, homelessness, and other deplorable conditions. Child welfare specialists often work for the government or nonprofit organizations to place children in the best possible living environment for health and happiness. Now’s an excellent time to consider child welfare careers because prospects are bright with faster-than-average growth of 12 percent through 2024. According to PayScale, median salaries for child welfare services range from $35,836 to $61,042.

We’ve meticulously researched the Top 15 MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers. We used the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) directory to narrow down the 90 accredited programs in the United States with Children, Youth and Families concentrations. Next, we consulted with the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings for top graduate schools in social work. We looked for universities appearing on both resources for high-quality child welfare preparation. Each program had to fulfill LMSW and/or LCSW licensing requirements with extensive fieldwork in youth-related settings. Other important factors were specialized electives, financial aid, exam pass rates, class size, curriculum flexibility, and faculty credentials. That said, here are our selections for the Top 15 MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers:

1. University of Michigan


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Established as the Catholepistemiad in 1817, the University of Michigan occupies 3,177 acres in Ann Arbor on the Huron River to educate over 44,700 scholars as a premier public, sea-grant AAU member with “very high research activity.” The Institute of International Education ranked UMich fifth nationally for students studying abroad. Within the CSWE-accredited School of Social Work, Wolverines earn America’s #1 MSW according to the U.S. News and World Report. The 60-credit degree offers a practice concentration for Children and Youth in Families and Society. The 16-month or 12-month Advanced Standing track can be supplemented with a Certificate in Child Welfare. Students could also serve in the SSW Peace Corps.

Tuition: $25,756 (in-state) or $41,272 (out-of-state) yearly

Learn more about the University of Michigan’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careeers here.

2. Washington University in St. Louis


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Attracting over 14,800 learners from 120 countries, Washington University in St. Louis is named for the United States’ first President as a private, nonprofit RU/VH institution on 346 urban acres off Forest Park Parkway in Missouri’s second-largest city. The Wall Street Journal honored Washington University in St. Louis as the 11th Best National University. The Brown School of Social Work stands out for America’s second best MSW on the U.S. News. Eight MSW concentrations are available, including Children, Youth and Families. Child welfare education in the two-year, 60-credit curriculum holds CSWE accreditation. Students benefit from over 300 practicum sites, research experience in the Kathryn M. Buden Center, and the Urban Education Initiative (UEI).

Tuition: $19,786 per semester

Learn more about Washington University in St. Louis’ MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

3. University of California – Berkeley


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Founded from the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College in 1868, the University of California-Berkeley is the Golden State’s flagship public, land-grant RU/VH institution with 38,200 Bears on its 1,232 urban acres in Alameda County. The Obama Scorecard Colleges report placed UC-Berkeley #1 for value and affordability. The CSWE-accredited Master of Social Welfare is also ranked third by the U.S. News. MSW students can declare the Direct Practice in Child and Family Services concentration through the Title IV-E Child Welfare program. The full-time, two-year program spans 54 units, including 400 first-year and 720 second-year fieldwork hours. Aspiring LCSWs choose from over 350 placements across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tuition: $11,113 (in-state) or $17,235 (out-of-state) yearly

Learn more about the University of California – Berkeley’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

4. University of Chicago


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Historically tied to the American Baptist Education Society, the University of Chicago is a private, non-denominational research institution founded in 1890 that’s educating 15,700 Maroons from 217 urban acres in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Forbes magazine graded UChicago A+ for America’s 22nd most grateful graduates. The School of Social Service Administration’s Master of Arts also tied for #3 nationally by the U.S. News. This two-year, CSWE-accredited program offers a self-designed sequence in Family and Child Welfare. Students complete 1,120 fieldwork hours working directly with vulnerable youth. The SSA also offers study abroad trips to Mumbai, a Contextual Behavior Therapy Fellowship, and teaching assistantships in the Pozen Family Center.

Tuition: $15,321 per quarter

Learn more about the University of Chicago’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

5. Columbia University


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Affiliated with over 100 Nobel laureates, Columbia University is a prestigious, private Ivy League member operating since 1754 from a 299-acre urban campus in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood. The Princeton Review placed Columbia 12th nationally for “Great Financial Aid.” According to the U.S. News, the CSWE-accredited School of Social Work also provides the sixth best MSW. Master’s students can customize the 60-credit curriculum and its 1,200 practicum hours in seven fields, including Family, Youth, & Children’s Services. Columbia produces licensed clinical social workers as “agents of change” with 16-month, two-year, Advanced Standing, and Reduced Residency tracks. Dual MSW degrees also exist with the Bank Street College of Education.

Tuition: $1,446 per credit

Learn more about Columbia University’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

6. Case Western Reserve University


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Described as “Cleveland’s Big-Leaguer,” Case Western Reserve University is a private, doctoral RU/VH research institution endowed for $1.76 billion to educate over 10,200 Spartans from 155 urban acres in northeastern Ohio. According to Washington Monthly, CWRU ranks 12th nationally for contribution to the public good. The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandal School of Applied Social Sciences also houses America’s ninth best social work preparation. The CSWE-accredited MSSA has produced 7,800 practitioners in seven concentrations, including Children, Youth and Families. Students can follow the 60-credit curriculum’s Daytime, Advanced Standing, or Intensive Weekend format. At least 900 field practicum hours are collected with paid stipends. Graduates could continue for CWRU’s Ph.D. in Social Welfare.

Tuition: $21,285 per semester

Learn more about Case Western Reserve University’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

7. Boston College


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Devoted to Jesuit values, Boston College is a private, nonprofit RU/VH research powerhouse educating over 14,100 students, including 21 Fulbright Scholars, on a $2.2 billion endowment from 332 suburban acres in Chestnut Hill. With A+ academics, BC was named America’s #4 “Best Catholic College” on Niche. The U.S. News distinguished the School of Social Work for awarding the 10th best MSW nationwide. Clinical MSW students can declare a CSWE-accredited concentration in Children, Youth & Families and finish the Child Welfare Certificate. The 60-credit, evidence-based curriculum includes three days of applied fieldwork each week. Social workers may participate in BC’s famed Latino Leadership Initiative for cultural awareness and Spanish fluency.

Tuition: $1,138 per credit

Learn more about Boston College’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

8. University of Pittsburgh


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Surrounding the Cathedral of Learning with a 132-acre urban campus in the Oakland neighborhood, the University of Pittsburgh is a public, PASSHE research institution tracing back to 1787 that’s enrolling over 28,600 Panthers. Forbes magazine crowned Pittsburgh as America’s 160th best value college. According to the USNWR, Pitt’s Master of Social Work ties for 10th place nationally too. Graduates can pursue the MSW in Children, Youth and Families while participating in the Child Welfare Education for Leadership (CWEL) project. The CSWE-accredited curriculum includes 42 class credits and 18 field credits at placements like Pennsylvania DHS. Act 31 Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting Training is included online.

Tuition: $17,688 (in-state) or $28,828 (out-of-state) yearly

Learn more about the University of Pittsburgh’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare Careers here.

9. University of Pennsylvania


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As a private, nonprofit Ivy Leaguer established by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania enrolls 24,800 students and employs 4,650 faculty on its 1,094-acre urban campus in Philadelphia’s University City district. The Princeton Review placed UPenn 17th for “Colleges That Pay You Back.” Maintaining CSWE accreditation, the School of Social Policy & Practice has the 10th best MSW according to the U.S. News. Full-time cohorts complete 16 units and two field internships over four semesters. Practicum placements include Montgomery County Youth Center and Berks County CYS. For individualized learning, there’s a Child Well-Being and Child Welfare Specialization. Students working at Pennsylvania child welfare agencies could earn CWEL stipends.

Tuition: $46,532 per year

Learn more about the University of Pennsylvania’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

10. University of Southern California


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Endowed for $4.6 billion, the University of Southern California is a private, RU/VH institution holding sea-grant and space-grant status to educate 42,400 Trojans from 308 urban acres in Los Angeles. Graded A+, USC was deemed the #1 “College with the Best Student Life” on Niche. The U.S. News also applauded the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work for America’s 12th top MSW. This CSWE-accredited program offers a Children, Youth and Families specialization with a Public Child Welfare option. Over two to four years, the 60-credit curriculum will integrate at least 1,000 field internship hours. Graduates can earn the Pupil Personnel Services Credential (PPSC) for working in California schools.

Tuition: $1,733 per unit

Learn more about the University of Southern California’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

11. University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Labeled a “Public Ivy,” the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a flagship land-grant and sea-grant research hub with enrollment surpassing 43,300 and expenditures over $1.1 billion upon its 936-acre urban campus just 122 miles northwest of Chicago. On Forbes, UW-Madison stands as America’s 10th best public university. The U.S. News also recognizes the CSWE-accredited School of Social Work as tying for the 12th best MSW. After the Generalist Practice year, students select from four emphases, including Child, Youth and Family Welfare. Those already holding a BSW can immediately begin the advanced specialization. Both the Madison and Eau Claire campuses host the Title IV-E Public Child Welfare Training.

Tuition: $11,942 (in-state) or $25,269 (out-of-state) yearly

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

12. Ohio State University


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Based on 1,765 urban acres in Columbus with extensions from Marion to Wooster, The Ohio State University is a prestigious public, land-grant and space-grant AAU member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance with over 101,200 total Buckeyes. On Niche, Ohio State is recognized for America’s 14th “Best College Campus.” The College of Social Work was ranked 17th nationally for its CSWE-accredited MSW by the U.S. News. Within the 63-credit curriculum, full- or part-time students can declare the Child and Youth Services Specialization. Future child welfare specialists fulfill LMSW requirements with at least 912 fieldwork hours. Advanced Standing students could even pursue the Online MSW asynchronously.

Tuition: $449 (in-state) or $1,088 (out-of-state) per credit

Learn more about Ohio State University’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

13. University of Denver


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Belonging to the NAICU, the University of Denver is a private, co-educational institution carrying a $607 million endowment to serve around 11,700 Pioneers upon a 125-acre urban campus in the Rocky Mountains’ foothills. The Princeton Review honored DU as America’s 19th “Best Impact School.” The Graduate School of Social Work is also acclaimed for the nation’s 17th best Master of Social Work. Holding CSWE approval, the two-year, 90-quarter credit MSW offers concentrations for Child Welfare or Children & Youth: Risks and Healthy Development. Students attend classes on Thursdays and Fridays while completing 16 hours of fieldwork weekly. Since 2002, the Four Corners MSW has been delivered via ITV too.

Tuition: $45,288 per year

Learn more about the University of Denver’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

14. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign


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With 94 percent retention, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign educates over 44,000 Fighting Illini as a public, land-grant and sea-grant RU/VH institution with a vast 4,552-acre urban campus just 124 miles west of Indianapolis. The Times Higher Education picked UIUC seventh among American public schools. According to the U.S. News, the CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work is also tied for 17th best nationally. Advanced Clinical students may customize the 12-course curriculum with the Children, Youth, and Family Studies Concentration. Two consecutive semesters of field internship are included for 930 hours minimum. Students with a minimum 3.0 GPA could add the Illinois Professional Educator Licensure (PEL).

Tuition: $13,266 (in-state) or $28,664 (out-of-state) yearly

Learn more about the University of Illinois at Urbana’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.

15. Rutgers University


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Named after Revolutionary War hero Henry Rutgers in 1766, Rutgers University is a public, multi-site RU/VH research institution approved by the New Jersey Legislature to educate over 67,000 Scarlet Knights in New Brunswick and beyond. Money magazine included Rutgers within the “20 Public Colleges Most Likely to Pay Off Financially.” The U.S. also distinguished the School of Social Work for the 22nd top MSW countrywide. Holding CSWE approval, the traditional, on-campus program offers emphasis in Children, Youth and Families. Along with 1,125 field hours, the 60-credit curriculum includes courses like child welfare and human diversity. Rutgers also has a Violence Against Women and Children Certificate.

Tuition: $689 (in-state) or $1,172 (out-of-state) per credit

Learn more about Rutgers University’s MSW Programs for Child Welfare here.